back to article USMC: We want more F-35s per year than you Limeys will get in half a decade

The head of US Marine Corps aviation wants to buy more F-35Bs per year than the UK will receive in the next five. At a press conference yesterday, Lieutenant General Jon Davis, USMC deputy commandant for aviation, said he wants the service to increase its purchase rate to 37 F-35Bs per year. Under current plans, the USMC …

  1. Professor Clifton Shallot

    Irrational

    But I feel something like affection for the Harrier so it's sad that anyone wants to replace them.

    They're just cooler and quirkier than anything else around.

    1. CPU

      Re: Irrational

      They are solid and battle hardend, but they are very old now.

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Irrational

        I'd put £100 on a Harrier being able to take down an F-35 every day of the week.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Irrational

          "I'd put £100 on a Harrier being able to take down an F-35 every day of the week."

          They'd have to be able to get up before anyone could take them down.

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Irrational

          Given that (unlike the F35) the Harrier has software to fire it's weapons, that's a pretty safe bet both at the moment and for the foreseeable future.

          If/When the F35 reaches full capability then the F35 would win a long range head to head missile engagement due to being able to see and shoot at the Harrier first.

          The Harrier would still win a close range "dogfight" due to the well practiced freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, shortly followed by the overshooting aircraft getting a missile tossed up the ass. Tested and proved to work in combat conditions as well.

          I wouldn't like to take an F35 into close action, which WILL happen when somebody high up wonders "are we sure that's hostile? Obtain visual confirmation it's not an airliner..."

          1. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: Irrational

            'The Harrier would still win a close range "dogfight" due to the well practiced freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, shortly followed by the overshooting aircraft getting a missile tossed up the ass. Tested and proved to work in combat conditions as well.'

            Have you got a source for that, because despite it being practised I'm unaware of any occasion in actual combat where the Harrier used vectoring to cause another aircraft to overshoot it. Certainly none of the kills in the Falklands Conflict were achieved that way.

            On a related matter the F-35 has just completed its first Red Flag exercise where they managed a 15:1 kill ratio.

            1. Dave 15

              Re: Irrational

              I don't know if the Harrier ever actually vectored to avoid being shot down, I doubt it, from my recollection of Falklands the Harriers were winning far too well to be in danger of being shot down.

              Who ran the red flag exercise? Lockheed for a guess. I watched a report from Australia where 95% of the F35s failed to return from missions against reasonable modern opposition (like the Russian SU planes). Indeed they appear to fail fairly basically against existing American planes as well.

              True the Harrier is old but frankly I would like to see our government doing the reverse of its last move, buy all the Harriers it sent to America and all these usmc ones at a knock down price, put them on the carriers, build a couple more small carriers and go ... at least we have something to sail around in.

              And yes, agree with the comments about missiles and saturation of the ships defences... but more ships is more targets is a slightly better chance for an individual ship to survive....

              1. SkippyBing Silver badge

                Re: Irrational

                'Who ran the red flag exercise? Lockheed for a guess'

                No the USAF, it runs multiple times a year every year.

              2. MrT

                VIFFing and the Falklands conflict...

                @Dave 15

                From a bit of a dig around, this PDF doc from the RAF (particularly around p108) reads like they knew about VIFFing but didn't really use it. All the Harrier kills were by AIM-9 Sidewinder (newer L variant, compared to the older G units used up to the conflict), so there's a chance VIFFing could have been used to help acquire targets, but by and large they didn't engage in dogfighting.

                Sea Harriers shot down:

                9 IAI Daggers (Mirage V equivalent)

                7 A-4 Skyhawks

                1 Mirage III

                ...and 3 other aircraft.

            2. Measurer

              Re: Irrational

              I think it was a USMC pilot who first used it in combat, rather than the RAF (Gulf War 1 maybe). Remember seeing a documentary on it a while back.

            3. Tom 38 Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: Irrational

              'The Harrier would still win a close range "dogfight" due to the well practiced freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, shortly followed by the overshooting aircraft getting a missile tossed up the ass. Tested and proved to work in combat conditions as well.'

              Have you got a source for that, because despite it being practised I'm unaware of any occasion in actual combat where the Harrier used vectoring to cause another aircraft to overshoot it.

              Yeah, there was an engagment with MiGs over the Indian Ocean, the MiG had a lock on Maverick and Goose, Maverick hit the brakes and the MiG flew right by and then Maverick popped him.

              I thought everyone knew this?!

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Maverick and Goose

                The US Squids in "Top Gun" were flying an F-14, you silly goose

                1. JJKing Bronze badge
                  Coat

                  Re: Maverick and Goose

                  The US Squids in "Top Gun" were flying an F-14, you silly goose

                  Yes, an F-14 Harrier. #Fact #Period #Sad #Unfair

                  Mines the one with the ski ramp in the pocket.

            4. IWVC

              Re: Irrational

              Well a bit too old to be relevant now but Sharkey Ward's book Sea Harrier over the Falklands has some interesting accounts of operating in bad North sea conditions when the US carriers couldn't launch (Chapter 1) and some exercises with the US using F5s and F15s where they used the Harrier's characteristics to their advantage (Chapter 6). He reckoned you could pull a 2G "stop" at 400 knot by vectoring and used it against F5s.

              Having said that he isn't exactly reserved and unbiased in describing the performance of the Sea Harrier :-)

            5. MrDamage

              Re: Irrational

              > "On a related matter the F-35 has just completed its first Red Flag exercise where they managed a 15:1 kill ratio."

              Flying through a flock of sparrows and then crashing doesn't exactly count as 15:1 kill ratio.

              /trollface

          2. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Irrational

            Harrier is combat proven and difficult to fight against.

            It is small, can hide its exhaust easily, manouverable, and had excellent RADAR (FRS1/FA2).

            The BVR missiles actually have to be able to see the Harrier to hit them.

            The US is not keen on its best aircraft, Harrier and A10

          3. Mage Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            Re: Irrational

            Maybe if it's irrational enough, May would buy them?

            Otherwise some evil anti-human rights regime will buy them.

            1. GingerOne

              Re: Irrational

              "Maybe if it's irrational enough, May would buy them?

              Otherwise some OTHER evil anti-human rights regime will buy them."

              FTFY

          4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            "freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, "

            Invented by a couple of USMC pilots IIRC (Vectoring In Forward Flight)

        3. SundogUK

          Re: Irrational

          You'd lose.

          http://uk.businessinsider.com/f-35-slaughters-competition-red-flag-2017-2?r=US&IR=T

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Irrational

            You'd lose.

            Maybe, but the source you quote (and all the way back to the Pentagon and Lockheed) I wouldn't trust an inch. The F35 programme is long on cost, short on delivery. Having some token exercise to generate some impressive "kill" figures is mere marketing by the military-industrial machine, and I don't believe it.

            Against a third rate air force, certainly, and in an environment with no modern air defence weaponry. But against modern air defence assets, I'd expect the F35 to suffer significant losses (and the same for any other state of the art military aircraft from any nation).

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Irrational

              "Maybe, but the source you quote (and all the way back to the Pentagon and Lockheed) I wouldn't trust an inch. The F35 programme is long on cost, short on delivery. Having some token exercise to generate some impressive "kill" figures is mere marketing by the military-industrial machine, and I don't believe it."

              There is a book (and movie) about real life experiences in weapons development programmes, written by an officer who worked in that area of the Pentagon... "The Pentagon Wars"... recommended.

            2. eldakka Silver badge

              Re: Irrational

              I am not a fan of the F-35, however...

              "But against modern air defence assets, I'd expect the F35 to suffer significant losses"

              Considering that is outside the specifications and purpose of the F-35, of course it would not do well.

              The F-35 IS a 2nd-rate fighter, designed to be the workhorse/bomb-truck to the F-22.

              It's use doctrine is:

              Let the F-22s and Intruder-type aircraft take out the enemy air defences - aircraft, AA, etc.

              THEN the F-35 does the high-rate close-air-support and precision strike sorties, with no significant enemy air defences left intact.

              It is not designed to be a front-line dogfighter or a 'penetration'-type strike aircraft, that's the f-22's job.

          2. Bitbeisser

            Re: Irrational

            >You'd lose.

            >

            >http://uk.businessinsider.com/f-35-slaughters-competition-red-flag-2017-2?r=US&IR=T

            Irrelevant for the way the Harriers are being used (and have been intended ever since they were selected): Close Air Support.

            And in that role, a F-35 will just suck, just for the same reason why the A-10 is kept busy over the fast guys in their F-16/F-15/-F18.

            An A-10/Harrier can get in close on a strafing run within a couple hundred feet, the jet-jockeys would shit their G-suits out of fear they hit friendlies when doing so.

            1. Robert Sneddon

              The Bad Guys shoot back

              "An A-10/Harrier can get in close on a strafing run within a couple hundred feet, "

              The Bad Guys, even irregular guerilla forces usually have heavy machine guns that can shoot back if a ground attack aircraft gets within "a couple hundred feet". Pilots that want to go home after work shoot up the Bad Guys from a few kilometres away using Hellfire and Brimstone missiles from well out of range of heavy MGs and shoulder-fired missiles. As a bonus they don't accidentally walk cannonfire through friendly forces when the nose of the aircraft drops in a rough air pocket.

              A sniper wouldn't charge his target to bayonet them, why would it be necessary for ground attack aircraft to knife-fight when they can stand off beyond visual range and turn the opposition into mince without allowing them a glimpse of the weapons platform that is destroying them?

              As for the Harrier, a triumph of 1970s engineering, it is slow and short-ranged with a limited payload compared to regular catapult-launched aircraft such as the F/A-18. Its big advantage for the USMC is its ability to operate from rough airfields and short decks on the Tarawa-class and new America-class Marine assault ships, America's other aircraft carriers. The F35-B can also fly off those short decks as well as being faster, longer-ranged, smarter, stealthier and generally isn't falling apart due to the age of the airframe hence the USMC's keen interest in getting more of them as soon as possible to replace their forty-year-old Harriers.

              1. 22ten

                Re: The Bad Guys shoot back

                Hellfire and Brimstone missiles??? You must love paying tax, since you get a lot of shells and flying time for the cost of just one missile!!!

          3. Potemkine Silver badge

            Re: Irrational

            What was the opposition? F-5?

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Irrational

        They are solid and battle hardend, but they are very old now.

        And? They are perfectly fitting the standard job of an aircraft carrier nowdays - sit offshore and pound some locals which are at Iron Age level into the Stone Age. They are perfectly fit for purpose for that. NOTHING else though.

        They are as unsuited for warfare against a major power as an F35 because their carrier with all of its protection will last ~ 3 minutes against a full-on saturation missile attack by any of the top 10 major world powers.

        For example China has ~ 1000+ anti-ship missiles on station in the Chinia Sea fleet. 1000+ more on mainland coastal installations, installations on the new "artificial islands" and god knows how many carried by their air force and single carrier wing. It does not matter are they good or bad. A USA or NATO carrier group will run out of defensive ammo half-way through the attack. After that they are dead meat.

        If we go down the list - India is arming itself to the teeth to the same standard, other top 20 economies are all exploring the same route.

        This equation will not change until we switch to energy weapons for defense - something that requires a power source to run and needs no ammo. That is clearly not on the menu for decades to come.

        1. Potemkine Silver badge

          Re: Irrational

          You're absolutely true, but you can't forget Harriers' mainframes endured a lot of stress: it has mechanical consequences, metal fatigue becomes worrying when a plane gets old.

    2. ToddRundgrensUtopia

      Re: Irrational

      and much slower

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Irrational

        "and much slower"

        Only on the straight - lose the F35s in the corners, like Harleys and AUDIs.

        1. Diginerd

          Re: Irrational

          "much slower".

          Remember my dad reminiscing about El Reg's other favorite "slow" naval aircraft - The Swordfish.

          IIRC it did far better in ACTUAL combat Vs much faster and technically "Better" enemy aircraft in WWII. Something to do with the "bad guys" leading their targets too much as they were trained against "faster and better" aircraft.

          Obsolete tech aside - something to be said for a Crack'ling rush vs far fewer, more capable, but more costly units.*

          *StarCraft reference for those who haven't experienced the damage this kind of assault can deliver.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            > something to be said for a Crack'ling rush vs far fewer, more capable, but more costly units.*

            You're the sort of brood mother who never pauses to think of Mrs Zerg and the little Zerglets at home, waiting for the squick-squick-squick of daddy's pseudopods returning...

            Today there's still one very expensive bit fitted to every cheap unit: the pilot. Expensive to train, and very dear indeed to someone, if only themself. Except in times of heroic sacrifice they get very glum if they think they're just cannon fodder. Give it a few years, then perhaps the sten gun equivalent in drones will take this up: couple of Raspberry Pis bolted to a Maplins quadcopter.

            Of every-zerg-is-sacred-every-zerg-is-great, Max Hastings made the trenchant observation that the relatively slow advance of the Western Armies in WWII after Normandy can be best understood as everyone involved knowing that the war was already effectively won and not wanting to be the last one to die. Seen this way the timidity is a badge of civilisation: our chaps could focus on getting home alive without that being a sure appointment with a Gestapo lyncher or an NKVD machine-gunner.

      2. Bitbeisser

        Re: Irrational

        The slower might rather be an advantage when it comes to the use case for the Harriers (or the V/STOL F-35), close air support. There, slow is better, as it helps to deliver it payload closer to friendly troops with better accuracy.

        The same reason why it will be a sad day for the US military (and a lot of friendly nations on the same missions) if the US Airforce is ever to retired the A-10. The jet-jockey brass all want to play Ricky Bobby and go fast, but that ain't helping the guys on the ground...

  2. CPU

    I seem to remember that F-35B are about as buggy as Windows 10, requiring a great many updates. Ah well, we only need a few to see off the Icelandic gunboats come Brexit.

  3. Dr Scrum Master

    Swap

    Can we have the Harriers that the USMC don't want and put them on HMS QE instead?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Swap

      Didn't we sell ours to the Marines anyway?

      Should have done it through Lend-Lease...

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Swap

        Yup, we sold the yanks all of our Harriers to use for spares.

        At least they're looking after them ok in the boneyard.

        1. RealBigAl

          Re: Swap

          I'm confused. I thought the USMC Harriers were scaled up versions of the original harriers, scratch built under license to a scaled up design and about twice the size of UK Harriers. Surely the parts aren't interchangeable?

          1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

            Re: Swap

            The original Harrier line was quite extensively reworked but we had the GR5/GR7/GR9 and the Americans the AVB8 - the only real external difference is that ours had additional pylons (weapons mounts) attached to the front of the outrigger fairings.

            But we had them too.

            1. Siberian Hamster

              Re: Swap

              To my knowledge, the last major upgrade to the Harrier was an extended composite wing designed by McDonnell Douglas which gave extended range and carrying capacity, but at reduced speed and turn rate. BAe designed a GR5K "tin wing" Harrier which maintained the turn rate.

              This "tin wing" could have been retrofitted to the existing Harrier (and Sea Harrier) fleet giving a faster, more manoeuvrable aircraft with more lift capacity than the AV-8B, but the US Government would only buy their own AV-8B design, and would only purchase if the RAF also purchased it.

              As a compromise BAe designed metal wing root leading edge extensions which gave improved turn rate. These were eventually fitted to both the RAF and US Marine Corps versions of the AV-8B. The wing root leading edge extensions are metal because McDonnells refused to export the composite materials technology to BAe.

              Note that the eventual AV-8B/GR5/GR7 is actually slower than the GR3/FRS1

              1. ecofeco Silver badge

                Re: Swap

                Very interesting SH. Thanks for that.

  4. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Nice turn of phrase

    Bottom line is we've had a very anaemic ramp

    I must remember that one for the next project meeting where I have to say I've done nothing because no-one has been in a position to send me any data yet.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Nice turn of phrase

      Bottom line is we've had a very anaemic ramp

      And our carriers do too- and an anaemic catapult.

  5. ArrZarr Silver badge

    Am I missing something?

    Our current harriers work, right? The problem is that they're getting old so they're more likely to have issues relating to metal fatigue etc. That means they need replacing.

    Can't we just build new ones?

    1. Van

      Re: Am I missing something?

      That wouldn't enrich enough contractors.

      Scaled down drone Harriers controlled by F35s would be cool.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Am I missing something?

      The Spitfire works, lets just build more of them.

      1. Dave 15

        Re: Am I missing something?

        From current reports I guess they even work better than this f35 junk.

      2. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        Even the F-35B would probably be able to beat one of the old warbirds within visual range. Would it beat the Harrier within visual range?

      3. Alan Edwards

        Re: Am I missing something?

        A Spitfire with a turbo-prop engine, contra-rotating variable-pitch props, and fly-by-wire. *That* could be interesting...

        1. Tannin

          Re: Am I missing something?

          A Spitfire with a turbo-prop engine, contra-rotating variable-pitch props, and fly-by-wire. *That* could be interesting...

          It's been done. Well, all bar the fly-by-wire. It wasn't a Spitfire they did it with, but a Mustang, which was pretty much te same thing only a 10-year newer design: same engine, marginally better manouverability, marginally lower rate of climb, much longer range, genrally regarded as one of the best three land-based fighters of the era (alongside the Spitfire and the FW-190).

          So, for our purposes, close ernough to a Spitfire. Back in the 1960s the Yanks were trying to flog a turbine-powered Mustang as a heavily-armed, cost-effective ground attack platform for sale to third-world clients and allies. It seemed like a pretty good machine for that purpose but so far as I can remember it never went into production.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Am I missing something?

            "Back in the 1960s the Yanks were trying to flog a turbine-powered Mustang as a heavily-armed, cost-effective ground attack platform for sale to third-world clients and allies. It seemed like a pretty good machine for that purpose but so far as I can remember it never went into production."

            No, it didn't. Everybody interested had already bought WW2 surplus Mustangs at a fraction of the price with practically the same performance.

            It was found that such Mustangs stood an excellent chance of bringing down a modern jet in a dogfight as the Mustang could outturn the jet massively. The approved method was basically high speed strafing passes so the prop fighter couldn't evade or return fire.

            Personally I'd like to see the Sea Hornet back in production because it's got quadruple the range of the F35, would be a lot cheaper to operate and proved quite capable enough for close air support in it's original iteration. Not great for fighting WW3, but good enough for bombing people who's idea of AAA is an AK47. They also don't stand any chance of bankrupting the country building and operating them.

            1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

              Re: Am I missing something?

              FAA Hawker Sea Furys took down MiG-15s in Korea.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: FAA Hawker Sea Furys took down MiG-15s in Korea.

                Using the plural is probably an exaggeration.

                1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

                  Re: FAA Hawker Sea Furys took down MiG-15s in Korea.

                  "FAA Hawker Sea Fury took down MiG-15s in Korea."

                  Better?

              2. Potemkine Silver badge

                Re: Am I missing something?

                FAA Hawker Sea Furys took down MiG-15s in Korea.

                And Skyraiders took down Mig-17s in Vietnam

          2. Kernel

            Re: Am I missing something?

            " It wasn't a Spitfire they did it with, but a Mustang, which was pretty much te same thing only a 10-year newer design: same engine, marginally better manouverability, marginally lower rate of climb, much longer range, genrally regarded as one of the best three land-based fighters of the era (alongside the Spitfire and the FW-190)."

            I can't help thinking that the Mitsubishi Zero Sen deserves one of those three top places, given the dismal performance of the Spitfires sent against it in the early days of the war in the Pacific and that the Chance-Voight Corsair was the first fighter that could really handle the Zero with any degree of confidence.

            1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

              Re: Am I missing something?

              Zero was a carrier based fighter, in design at least.

    3. Dave 15

      Re: Am I missing something?

      We could ... would mean setting up a factory and doing some manufacturing... unless China wants to bid to do it (after all they make the uniforms the pilots wear)

    4. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Am I missing something?

      Our current harriers work, right? The problem is that they're getting old so they're more likely to have issues relating to metal fatigue etc. That means they need replacing.

      Can't we just build new ones?

      If your British then we sold our Harriers to the US.

      If your American then you bought our stock of Harriers plus spares at a bargain basement price and could either significantly increase the number in service, or maintain the existing aircraft at low/no cost by using our stock of spares and then breaking the existing (relatively low flying hours) aircraft for spare parts.

      If the F35 program goes tits up then we could build you some more Harriers. Fancy a higher performance version? See Hawker Siddeley Project 1154 for a supersonic version cancelled in 1965. Plans are available at very low cost from our national archives if you want a go yourself, and we've got the working engine designed, built and tested for this project (Bristol Siddeley BS100) sitting in a museum if reference to the real steel is required.

  6. Chris King Silver badge

    Stealing our watches to tell us the time ?

    "In the meantime, the seven British-owned aircraft are being used on flight and weapons trials"

    Hang on, are you saying we're paying top dollar for these planes, AND paying for the privilege of getting part-worn airframes once the Yanks finish their testing ?

    Sounds like we're "mummy" in this contract, and "daddy" doesn't care if we've got a headache.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Stealing our watches to tell us the time ?

      You get that we benefit from the testing as well right? Especially the UK only requirements like running it off a ski-ramp or certain weapons integration. Or do you think it makes more sense for each country to have their own test programme in the own country?

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Stealing our watches to tell us the time ?

        The benefit is that the UK builds a certain percentage of each airframe built.

        Personally, I think that:-

        1) We ought to buy more F35's to increase our workshare of each jet built, as we are going to get much more back money from the industrial participation of building the aircraft than the financial cost of the aircraft.

        2) the F35 is a military disastrous abomination resulting from compromises to get three separate roles into nominally one airframe which compromises it's ability to perform any one of those roles. We'd be better putting each through a car crusher on delivery rather than putting in service and then use the money gained from the industrial participation to buy something designed for the job.

        Apart from the fact that going with option 2 would reduce the number of F35's people would buy, and therefore the net gain to UK industry.

        So.... The F35 is a wonderful aircraft that your military can't do without! Just buy more of these instead of any other aircraft!

  7. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Not completely stupid

    To some extent the UK's position is financial. However there is a limit to how quickly you can build up a new force as you need the right mix of personnel from old fleets converted to the new type as well as ab initios. Too many of the latter and your accident rate goes up, too many of the former and it's all fine to start with but you then get a slump in manning when half the force retires at the same time.

    That being a given the UK isn't the best environment to store aircraft you can't use yet, they tend to corrode. The US have Davis-Monthan in Arizona to store aircraft, we have Wales. This does mean we're buying less of the more expensive early production lots and more in the later lots when they price should be getting down to the $100 Million level (from ~$200 Million for the early F-35As). So overall it's not the worst situation to be in and considering we're rebuilding our big carrier aviation experience after a forty year gap we probably don't want to be covering the QE in jets straight away.

    1. Dave 15

      Re: Not completely stupid

      Of course if someone had been intelligent ten we could have bought the Hermes back from India, stuck the catapults and arresting gear back on her and flown proper jets off her (not these fat bloated F35vstoll monstrosities) as we did before converting her to Harriers. If the idiot hadn't scrapped Ark Royal, Lusty an Invincible we could have had more aircraft carriers carrying more planes for a fraction of the cost.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not completely stupid

        If the idiot hadn't scrapped Ark Royal, Lusty an Invincible we could have had more aircraft carriers carrying more planes for a fraction of the cost.

        Sadly, all three were long in the tooth, and would have needed such signifcant work it would be better to start again. All three villlage idiots (Blair, Brown and Cameron) certainly deserve their tag, but primarily for ordering replacements too late (assuming there's a need, I'm with Voland's Right Hand above), scrapping the existing assets too early, and for orderng carriers big enough to have proper catapults, but then not specifying them as mandatory. And then they made it worse by selecting the camel that is the F35B. Back in the day, the UK made some fantastic carrier aircraft - the Harrier was interesting, but more of a solution searching for a problem (the problem, as in so much military procurement eventually turned out to the clowns at HM Treasury). The best carrier aircraft was probably the Buccaneer - a purpose built naval strike fighter, designed from the outset for low level performance from carriers - very strong, incredibly manouevrable, with some very clever tricks to enhance lift for take off.

        Given that the UK designed and built incredible aircraft like the Vulcan, Hunter, Victor, Bucaneer, TSR2, Lightning, Harrier, you have to wonder how the British government have backed themselves into a corner of having no domestic ability to originate a modern combat aircraft (other than crappy Euro-collaborations). And it isn't as though the need isn't obvious - the requirement for a new strike aircraft to replace the ageing Tornado or Sea Harriers has been obvious for the past thirty years. And it isn't as though it is too expensive to originate a very competent single country modern combat aircraft - Sweden has a population of less than 10m, barely above greater London, yet produced the excellent Gripen on its own. France, of the same size as the UK built the Rafale.

        Even when it comes to transport aircraft on most figures (but not maximum payload), the A400M may beat the Belfast, but all things considered the Belfast came into service half a century ago. As for choppers, Lynx was good in its day - but that was forty years ago. Whatever happened to the brilliant aerospace expertise and engineering talent that Britain once had?

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Not completely stupid

          'you have to wonder how the British government have backed themselves into a corner of having no domestic ability to originate a modern combat aircraft'

          At some point it actually became UK Govt policy that we would not develop indigenous combat aircraft but only do so as part of a multi-national conglomerate. I have no idea who thought this was a good idea.

          1. JJKing Bronze badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Not completely stupid

            At some point it actually became UK Govt policy that we would not develop indigenous combat aircraft but only do so as part of a multi-national conglomerate. I have no idea who thought this was a good idea.

            Pourquoi?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not completely stupid

          "Whatever happened to the brilliant aerospace expertise and engineering talent that Britain once had?"

          Not to mention having no aircraft to do long endurance maritime patrols until the Boeing order is completed. IIRC we currently have to borrow the capability off the French?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not completely stupid

            Not to mention having no aircraft to do long endurance maritime patrols until the Boeing order is completed.

            Given a free hand, I'd have David Cameron publicly hanged for that decision alone. And I'd take the family along with a picnic, make a day out of the event, and explain to the kids why the pudgy faced toff is going to dangle.

            A big part of the tragedy of Nimrod MRA4 is the persistent inability of MoD to consider as separate weapons systems and platforms. This applies to armoured vehicles, ships, subs, and all combat aircraft. So in 2010 we were still bashing out Comet airframes by hand to a design concept that was not far removed from state of the art in 1949 (when the Comet first flew). And because of that foolhardy decision, vast costs were incurred trying to completely modernise a layout that had been outmoded since the 707 first flew in 1958 (edit: 1957, Boeing 367). And because the original engines were so ancient, they had to throw money at trying to get brand new modern engines for this 1940s engine-in-wing design. Sadly, this was a re-run of the similar debacle platform + avionics bungle during the embarrassing failure of the Nimrod AEW3 project.

            I suspect if MoD had treated the avionics that went into MRA4 as a standalone project to fit in a modern airline airframe, the outcome would have been different. Our expertise in sub-hunting was world class, and the challenges of the MRA4 avionics could have been addressed appropriately. A suitable airframe would perhaps be a load of ex-airline, relatively low hours A319s, and the installation challenges and costs would have been far more controllable. We'd also have built an exportable product, whereas nobody in their right mind would invest in the Nimrod (and the necessary specialist support infrastructure).

            I mentioned some great British aircraft. Sadly the Comet, whilst innovative, was not really part of that group, and you have to ask yourself why the British government has persistently scrapped good and useful projects, and then continued with the Nimrod airframe. My teenage son could make a better job of military procurement than the combination of politicians, civil service and the military.

            1. Mage Silver badge

              Re: persistently scrapped good and useful projects

              Black Arrow,

              Blue Streak,

              The 1950s experiment where a rocket engine was fitted on a bomb bay for embryonic spaceplane testing (it worked).

              Inmos Transputer

              I think nuclear weapons are stupid, but the UK abandoned their own to import USA models. Trident is practically a rental.

              Gave up nuclear power, so now has to have Chinese/French one.

              I'm sure there is a lot of other things since 1945. Bean counters, Asset strippers and Government destroyed UK Domestic Electronics. Ever Ready was blocked from taking over Mallory (now called Duracell), asset stripped by Hanson, then brand sold to the pet food maker that bought the USA Eveready/Energiser.

              The F35 thing is totally logical and predicable given last 65 years.

              1. SkippyBing Silver badge

                Re: persistently scrapped good and useful projects

                'I think nuclear weapons are stupid, but the UK abandoned their own to import USA models.'

                The nuclear weapons are totally UK designed and owned. Some of the delivery systems aren't.

              2. Toltec

                Re: persistently scrapped good and useful projects

                "Inmos Transputer"

                I remember those well, first came across them at university then an instrumentation R&D company I worked used them in a number of projects.

            2. SkippyBing Silver badge

              Re: Not completely stupid

              'So in 2010 we were still bashing out Comet airframes by hand to a design concept that was not far removed from state of the art in 1949 (when the Comet first flew).'

              Depressingly that's not true. Rather than actually build new airframes BAe Systems tried to mate new wings to old airframes, while also upgrading all the systems etc. in those airframes. You may be shocked to learn that having been literally hammered together no two airframes were the same. Certainly BAe Systems were when their wing CAD designed to fit the first airframe didn't fit any of the others.

              I think the avionics should have gone in a new airliner body. I'd argue they should be new build too rather than ex-airline examples as that way you're starting from a known baseline for all aircraft and you're not having to take it apart to integrate sensors, mission systems etc.

        3. Mage Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Whatever happened

          Like Inmos and other UK industry, Thatcher.

        4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Not completely stupid

          "Whatever happened to the brilliant aerospace expertise and engineering talent that Britain once had?"

          Whitehall.

      2. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Not completely stupid

        Personally I wouldn't recommend purchasing a third hand 50+ year old carrier, I somehow doubt its material condition is good enough for more than a few more years running. Not to mention the RN would have to restart training for steam plant maintainers, logistics for the heavy fuel oil she runs on, find the catapult gear to reinstall.

        On a related note, Hermes doesn't really have the space for a decent catapult set up although she operated Buccaneers briefly it was very marginal. I have a graph at home showing how much you should plan on dropping below flight deck height before having the speed to climb away depending on weight and wind-speed. Their also isn't a lot of space for big jets, on her last cruise as a conventional carrier she could only take 6 of the 9 Buccaneers from the squadron.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Aodhhan Bronze badge

    Aerospace Ignorance

    To say the Harrier has any chance against an F-35 is ignorant.

    The Harrier wasn't built for 1:1 engagements against fighter aircraft. It's primary duty is sea interdiction and support/protection of ground troops. For this role, the Harrier works very well. When used, Harriers typically have fighter aircraft flying cover above them.

    The Harrier has a relatively low thrust to weight ratio which means slow acceleration. Speed and height is king along with being able to make fast, tight turns and maintain energy. Against the F35, the Harrier falls far behind. It's not even a close contest.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Aerospace Ignorance

      'The Harrier has a relatively low thrust to weight ratio which means slow acceleration. '

      You may want to consider how it can take off and land vertically. It's thrust/weight ratio is still competitive with most modern fighters. Where it is limited is top speed due to the high bypass turbofan which reduces the average speed of the reaction mass. The F-35 gets round this by turning off the high bypass bit unless it's in the VSTOL mode.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Aerospace Ignorance

      Speed and height is king along with being able to make fast, tight turns and maintain energy.

      This is only true if you're dog fighting. So perhaps it still works for lard-arsed Pentagon generals (and their Whitehall poodles), who are still fighting the Korean air war, but dogfighting is irrelevant in modern air warfare, other than in low-magnitude confrontations against third rate air powers.

      Ignoring the most common use case of bombing rebellious tribes, the point of the F35 is a general purpose strike fighter. In the event of an air war that justify its expense and ambition, the F35 superiority over the Harrier is pointless - even in the unlikley event that it is more capable as a dog fighter than an Su 35 or a J20 and their predecessors, risking F35s in close quarters dog fighting is idiocy - that is high risk, low benefit warfare, against enemies with greater numbers of aircraft to sacrifice. And for all the claims of US stealth and countermeasures, both Russians and Chinese have their own stealth programmes, they'll known what the vulnerabilities are - I wouldn't fancy my chances in an F35 flying in airspace defended by a modern missile system like an S400.

      We live in the age of the missile and the UAV. There are definite uses for manned aircraft, fast combat jets are rapidly ceasing to be one of those uses, and the need for dogfighting capabilities is merely to put on a show at air displays and please the old solidiers at the top of the pyramid.

  10. M7S

    Vulture Squadron anyone?

    Could we crowdfund purchasing back our Harriers, and their's if the dont want them? If we did something like in WW2 where towns purchased spitfires, and then "donated" them to the appropriate service (as not all of ours were Naval) then we could see an El Reg flagged one (or more) in service. Keep that red tail-fin flying!

    I think if as a nation we set a "nut and bolt" rebuild as a teaching/learning task for aero-engineering apprentices then at least there would be some operational capability for the carries when they are seaworthy, and off container ships prior to that, and then on a cannibalisation basis some could be kept flying until we eventually get a replacement aircraft, after which it would be nice to see a couple kept for displays like that Vulcan was.

  11. The elephant in the room

    UCAVs?

    I'd like to think we are only making a token effort with F-35s and didn't bother with catapults not because of incompetence or being poor but because the carriers are actually for the production version of the X-47B or sea-going BAE Taranis, which aren't in the shops yet. But no doubt we will find we need a completely different type of carrier for those.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge
      Go

      Re: UCAVs?

      'because the carriers are actually for the production version of the X-47B or sea-going BAE Taranis'

      Well the first of those needs cats and traps and the second doesn't seem to be VSTOL yet, so no, at no point was operating either airframe a consideration in the design of the carriers.

      If you think several £Billion and 148 aircraft is a token effort I'd be interested in your view of only buying 9 P-8s.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UCAVs?

        If you think several £Billion and 148 aircraft is a token effort .....

        For a nation the size of the UK, which wants to have a credible defensive capability for the British Isles, and have international "force projection" capability, that is a token effort. A third of the aircraft will be unserviceable or in maintenance at any one time, so we're down to barely a hundred aircraft. Buying any SVTOL aircraft guarantees a high accidental attrition rate, so perhaps one or two airframe losses per year.

        Now divide the less than 100 airframes between the RAF in the UK, RAF overseas, and the carriers, and fairly quickly you're down to perhaps twenty or so operationally available for UK homeland defence. If you assume nobody wants to or would attack the mainland UK, that's fine - but then why bother with any military forces?

  12. Wolfclaw Silver badge

    Fine, let the yanks have the F35's and we'll have the advanced Harriers back and upgrade them !

  13. Threlkeld

    "The carrier's maiden operational deployment will see her sailing to the South China Sea, ...."

    OK, I'll ask the obvious question:

    Why? Are we planning a replay of the Opium Wars? And if the South China Sea becomes a war zone, what exactly would be the name of the dog we would have in that fight?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      I imagine because it's a much nicer destination than say the Balkans, it's a good test of the whole system including supporting at range from the UK, bolsters our relations with various countries in the region with whom have various defence treaties e.g the Five Powers Defence Agreement. To some extent it is the point of an aircraft carrier, carrying aircraft a long way from home to cooperate with our allies and demonstrate to potential adversaries that we have the ability, such as North Korea whom I believe we still have an agreement to assist in defending the South from.

  14. Potemkine Silver badge

    Starting a war with China

    The carrier's maiden operational deployment will see her sailing to the South China Sea

    ... where it will make a beautiful wreck

  15. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Makes No Sense

    So the USMC need extra F-35s, meaning that we won't have them, meaning that we'll have to have USMC F-35s on HMS QE.

    And no doubt the requirement for USMC F-35s on HMS QE is the reason they need more.

    How about we take the planes the USMC was going to put on our carrier, thereby making everyone happy?

    Or was the plan to give the yanks a free carrier?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Makes No Sense

      It makes perfect sense. The USMC have a requirement for ~340 F-35B to replace their existing Harriers and some F/A-18s. The RN/RAF have a requirement for 148 F-35B for squadrons which are effectively being generated from scratch. Consequently the USMC can acquire them at a higher rate than the UK, unless we want to park them in a shed for several years until we have the manning levels to operate them. The USMC aren't getting more, they're getting them faster.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given the US is a warmongering nation filled with pockets of cash from throwing it's weight around on the international stage then it's hardly surprising that they want and can have more than us Limeys.

    We barely have enough ships to police lake Windermere let alone our coastline.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It doesn't matter.

    Aircraft carriers are just a big slow easy target for anyone who can build or buy a decent missile.

    Manned fighter aircraft are likely to become obsolete before the last F35 ships.

    The future is going to be multiple smaller ships each carrying a multitude of drones.

  18. Zmodem

    america needs them, the uk does'nt, america has no planes that are any good and could'nt actually own its own sky with the eurofighter making a joke out of the raptor in a dogfight and decommissioned the raptor from active service or any more being made

    1. Zmodem

      the EU could invade the USA with 1000 eurofighters, and they don't have any planes that could take down the eurofighters, its not stealth but the radar cross section is that of a fridge or something, its made for dogfighting and can turn non stop on a penny peice coin if you can find a good airshow video on youtube that does'nt have it all cut out for nerds who just like to watch planes fly by normally

      america would still be pushed hard with the 500 eurofighters that have been built

      1. Zmodem

        america's main fighter jet is the f-15 with them having roughly 500, which could all be shot down by a handful of eurofighters

  19. DaveB

    Crazy Idea

    I was thinking as the US retire their Harriers why don't we crowdfund a UK purchase.

  20. Kev99 Bronze badge

    Good night nurse. How many years has that Tom been under development? If planes had been designed at that rate during the War we'd all be speaking German or Japanese.

  21. Tank boy
    WTF?

    It's lonely at the top...

    I guess the Commandant of the air wing of the USMC didn't get the memo from commanders of ground forces and Harrier pilots themselves that they actually want to keep them, in fact have more of them. Is it as fancy as the F-35, no. It may/may not dogfight well against it, of course it won't ever have to, because they have different missions. The Harrier is for Close Air Support (CAS). That's it. That's what it does, and does very well. Just like the A-10 the Air Force has tried to put to pasture. The Warthog isn't going to dogfight anything (although I suspect if given the chance the pilots would be game), but it can crush anything on the ground, take a significant amount of damage and hang out (or loiter if you prefer) for a lot longer than a zoomy F-35. Even the venerable F-16 flies too high and too fast to really be effective against ground forces (although still an excellent aircraft). Now I know from my experience in the Army that Marines are dumb, I can only surmise that the condition gets worsened commensurately with rank.

  22. Runty Dog
    Coat

    Get real, this is the US Air Force at work

    We all know that the F-35 has had developmental troubles along the way:

    http://www.duffelblog.com/2015/08/f-35-loses-dogfight-to-red-baron/

    and that the US Air Force actually had to euthanize one after it became problematic:

    http://www.duffelblog.com/2014/02/f35-delays-sentience/

    but really its a good project and money well spent, unlike this Air Force money pit:

    http://www.duffelblog.com/2016/03/air-force-reveals-artist-rendering-of-5-trillion-stealth-money-pit/#prettyPhoto/0/

    Have a great week end!

  23. JJKing Bronze badge
    Flame

    I mentioned some great British aircraft. Sadly the Comet, whilst innovative, was not really part of that group

    Now say that again assuming the Comet had round windows instead of square or the effects of metal fatigue were better known during that time.

    Lessons learned from the Comet breakups were passed along to the Septics as too were the "deep stall" issues with the T-tail. From the end of the war so much development information was passed to the Septics that is must have saved them a mint on R&D. And what thanks do you get from this, a farking POS F-35 behemoth and the associated running costs.

    Ronnie Raygun helped bring down the USSR by outspending them. Now rasPutin is just waiting for the West to bankrupt itself buy purchasing the aircraft that was designed not to fail but can't fight it's way out of a paper bag. Canada, so far, has been the only one with enough testicular fortitude to turn down that Lockheed POS. I just hope other will eventually follow suite. Then perhaps a proper aircraft can be built that doesn't wreck the purchaser's economy and also enable them to buy sufficient numbers of the damn things.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So if the septics are taking all the F-35s does it mean we, the British taxpayers, won't have to keep pouring money into the F-35 development black-hole? https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/04/f-35-stealth-jet-fighter-uk-faces-billions-extra-cost

  25. 22ten

    Insane waste of taxpayer money

    Totally pointless plane in the modern world and an insane waste of taxpayer money... for the combat roles it might get to see (beyond imaginary ones) an A-10 would be far more effective or even a de Havilland Mosquito!!

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